Native corporation files suit over 2001 wildfire

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Nenana Native corporation has filed a $27 million lawsuit against Golden Valley Electric Association and its subcontractors for damages caused by the 2001 Fish Creek Fire.

The suit filed by Toghotthele Corp. charges that GVEA, the Fairbanks-area rural electric cooperative, and its subcontractors did not prevent or suppress the fire, which started while they were clearing land for an intertie project.

''We do have lost resources and we would like to recoup those lost resources,'' said Edna Hancock, Toghotthele president.

Proact Alaska, Pollux Aviation and Pollux owner Larry Larrivee are also named in Toghotthele's suit.

The lawsuit is the second related to the Fish Creek Fire. Last month the state filed suit seeking $3.6 million, a portion of its suppression costs, from GVEA, Pollux Aviation and Larrivee. Proact Alaska was not named in that suit.

According to a state investigation, Larrivee was ferrying Proact Alaska workers to a work site near Clear to clear trees and brush to prepare a right of way for construction of the Northern Intertie, GVEA's 100-mile Healy to Fairbanks electrical power line. The investigation concluded that the exhaust system of Larrivee's helicopter ignited dry grass during extreme fire conditions.

The fire started June 20 and burned 84,000 acres over the summer. Of that, 31,644 acres south of Nenana are owned by Toghotthele, Hancock said. Toghotthele charges that $958,178 worth of marketable timber was destroyed by the fire, according to the lawsuit filed July 8 by Mike Walleri, Toghotthele's attorney.

The corporation wants $6 million for the lost market value of the land and $2.3 million for restoration and reforestation. Hancock said the land and timber values were derived from a 1999 survey of all 138,000 acres the corporation was given under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Toghotthele is asking triple the actual damage amount, which company officials believe is allowed under state law, said Hancock, the corporation president.

Pollux owner Larrivee and representatives of Proact Alaska could not be reached by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

GVEA is questioning the legal and factual merits of the case, said Steve Haagenson, GVEA president. GVEA did not directly start the fire, he said.

''There's a lot not known here and there,'' he said. ''There is lots more to be talked about.''

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